Christopher Williams is a teacher at Hoboken High School in Hoboken, New Jersey, currently teaching PLTW Engineering courses.
PLTW has obvious benefits for students in the classroom.
Traditional classroom environments are typically geared towards studying, homework, and testing. Students in a PLTW classroom get hands-on projects that combine theory and practice. Their lessons apply to the real world in a tangible way that is immediately apparent. State-of-the art technology like 3D printers and other design tools keeps the students engaged because what they imagine can be created right in front of them.
What I didn’t expect from adding PLTW to my classroom was the student growth that occurred because of the engagement and hands-on participation. Public speaking, collaboration, teamwork, and communication are elements that every teacher hopes to foster. Yet, with PLTW, my students’ aptitude for these skills increased dramatically.
Students who typically sat quietly and were the last to begrudgingly present to the classroom were asking to present their projects first. The camaraderie between classmates, the team atmosphere, and the comfort that the students had, because of their level of engagement, fueled class participation in a way that astounded me. Parents of these students that usually feared being at the front of the classroom were even more surprised.
I recall one student in particular who was very quiet and didn’t talk much to his peers. I found out he really liked to draw, and we talked about how sketching can be a valuable tool for an engineer to capture ideas and develop solutions. I could tell he began to feel comfortable with me, the coursework, and his classmates. As a class, we just started an activity on concept sketching. He really got into it. When we had a product improvement presentation where students had to present their designs and talk about them, he couldn’t wait to share. You could see that his confidence grew when he saw how his interests could be applied to the project and when he realized he had the support of his classmates in a team atmosphere.
PLTW builds confidence in students in a way I have not seen before in the traditional classroom setting. For students like the one I mentioned to be able to put themselves out there without fear of ridicule and embarrassment helped change participation in the class immensely. From that point forward, he was eager to join in group activities and share his ideas with his peers. When I spoke with his mother about his accomplishments in class, she was nearly in tears. She was so happy and could not be more proud.
PLTW courses provide an opportunity for students to step outside of their comfort zone and really see what they are capable of. PLTW courses help prepare students for higher-level education and future careers in areas not just pertaining to STEM. Problem solving, public speaking, collaboration, teamwork, and communication are highly valued skills that I did not expect to be exercised so well. The skills they learn from these courses will prepare students for any challenges thrown their way, whether it’s a career in a STEM field or not.
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